Latinos in the Federal Sector – Still Waiting for Their Concerns to be Heard

*While President Obama’s record of appointing Latinos to his cabinet is set to become the best among all U.S. Presidents, the number of Latnos in the federal workforce is abysmally low. VL

By Jorge Ponce, NewsTaco

With the nomination of San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro to lead the U.S. Department of Housing of Urban Development (HUD), President Obama has positioned himself as the top president appointing more Hispanics to Cabinet positions.

Since taking office, President Obama has named four Hispanics to Cabinet-level positions: Ken Salazar (Interior), Hilda Solis (Labor), Thomas Perez (Labor), and Maria Contreras-Sweet (Small Business Administration (SBA)).  If the Senate confirms Julian Castro for HUD Secretary, this would give President Obama the lead.

Here is a comparison of President Obama’s record with that of his most recent predecessors. George W. appointed four Hispanics: Carlos Gutierrez (Commerce), Alberto Gonzalez (Attorney General, Justice), Mel Martinez (HUD), and Hector Barreto (SBA). Bill Clinton named four Hispanics to his Cabinet:  Henry Cisneros (HUD), Federico Peña (Transportation), Bill Richardson (Energy and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations), and Aida Alvarez (SBA).

While the efforts of these presidents to include more Hispanics in their Cabinets deserve praise, these appointments are short-term.  They only last as long as the incumbent is in the White House.  After they leave, the political appointees in the Cabinet leave with the president.  So, the impressive Hispanic representation could last only for 4 or 8 years.  Then, it’s back to the drawing board with a new administration.  This is not the change that Hispanics had in mind when they voted for President Obama.

When looking at the progress that Hispanics in the career ranks of the Federal Government have made under President Obama, his record does not look impressive at all.  This is discouraging after considering the number of Hispanics who placed their hopes and aspirations in electing the 44th President of the United States.  67% of Hispanics voted for the Obama/Biden ticket in 2008, and 71% did the same in 2012.

And, yet, the representation of Hispanics during President Obama’s terms has been anemic – nothing to brag about.  From 2009 through 2012, the Hispanic representation in the federal workforce increased by a mere 0.2%, while the gap with the Hispanic representation in the Civilian Labor Force increased by 0.8%.

And, what has the White House done to address this challenge? Very little.  It set up a Hispanic Council on Federal Employment on February 11, 2011, to advise the OPM Director on removing barriers that adversely impact the recruitment, hiring, retention, and advancement of Hispanics in the federal workforce.  The Council is co-chaired by an OPM executive and the Chair of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA).

Part of the reason for the ineffectiveness of this Council is that OPM does not share the minutes of its meetings with the public.  This decision is counter to the goals expressed by President Obama in his 2009 memorandum on transparency and open government.  Unless you are a Council member — in which case OPM e-mails you the minutes, or you attend the meetings in person — there is no way to stay informed of what goes on at these meetings.  This is most unfortunate, as there are many Hispanic federal employees who want to stay abreast of the business discussed at these Council meetings, but because of their busy schedules or their living in different geographic regions are unable to attend these meetings held in Washington, DC.

I attended every meeting of the Hispanic Council through December 2013.  From the very beginning, most Council members and attendees emphasized that the main reason for having a Council was to address the challenges faced by Hispanics in the federal workforce.  Consequently, they urged OPM to ask the White House to issue an executive order that dealt solely with Hispanic matters.  There was consensus that Hispanic issues deserved a Hispanic executive order, and not one where these issues got diluted by a diversity executive order.   Moreover, a Hispanic executive order would make it easier for agency heads to engage their leadership in initiatives to remedy the Hispanic challenge.  To date, Hispanics are still waiting for the White House to issue an executive order that addresses their concerns.

Katherine Archuleta serves as the current OPM Director and is the first Hispanic to hold this position.  She should not need much convincing to address the Hispanic underrepresentation challenge.  After all, this challenge that has been around for 44-years.  The Hispanic community as a whole is looking carefully at her actions to assess whether she is someone who is willing to walk her inclusion talk, or whether she was placed in her position for damage control to the White House.

As the “chief recruiter to the federal service,” Archuleta can make a huge difference.  Hispanics are waiting for action, not more empty promises or symbolic gestures!

President Obama has approximately two and a half years left to make a difference by leaving a lasting legacy that will remedy once and for all this challenge.  Issuing an executive order that solely addresses Hispanic issues would be a step in the right direction!

Jorge E. Ponce is a Civil Rights Champion who has worked for the Federal Government for over 30 years. 


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